Storytelling with Commercial Video

Storytelling with Commercial Video

We're not talking about commercials, we're talking commercial video. Not sure the difference? Listen to this episode to learn more and hear why video is the most effective medium for storytelling. In this episode, Speak's VPs are joined by Jordan and Jordan (J^2) to chat about all things cinematography. 

Roberts: Hello everyone and thank you for joining us. You're listening to A Little Off Topic, one agency's water cooler chat on digital marketing, business, and all the things that get in the way, presented by Speak Creative. Let's get into it.

Roberts: Alright. Welcome back everybody. Today, we have Jordan and Jordan, affectionately known as J squared here in the office. You heard that right. Both of our cinematographers are named Jordan. So we're going to dive into storytelling with commercial video with J squared, and we're going to jump right into this. Guys, how's it going?


Finney: It's going well. How are you doing?


Roberts: Good. Doing fine.


Dudek: So kind of you to ask, we're doing well, Matt. Thank you.


Kindra: Let me just say that it's really, really helpful that they're both named Jordan, because when you need something, you just yell their name and one of them will come along.


Roberts: Shout Jordan out loud and they both come trotting up with cameras at the ready.


Finney: Or we just look at each other to see who's going to answer the call.


Roberts: Alright, so that voice you just heard of course was Kindra Svendsen. How are you, Kindra?


Kindra: I'm doing well. Thank you. Thank you.


Roberts: Awesome. Matt Ervin. How are you doing?


Ervin: Hey, I'm doing great.


Roberts: Alright J squared. I said the words "commercial video" What exactly do you mean when you say commercial video?


Finney: Commercial video, at least to me, is any video that's used to promote a brand, product, or an initiative, such as a nonprofit, or differentiating a video spot that's not a feature film. So it doesn't necessarily mean a commercial on TV. It could be referring to a social media ad you see on Instagram or Facebook. Basically anything that's not going to be a film that you go see in the movie theaters.

Roberts: We know that Jordan Finney knows what's up. Jordan Dudek, you got anything to add to that? I

Finney: I taught him everything he knows. So just the same thing. No, not at all. It's as simple as just saying commercial video is something that a brand pays for, or that a company pays for in order to get a certain message out. Whether that fits more towards their own narrative, or they're trying to create a new narrative about their brand, commercial video is something that someone pays for in order to get a message out. Versus personal work or a film that usually a producer would pay for in order to tell a certain story, commercial work typically follows along a brand or a company.

Roberts: Well, that was good, because as I shared with you guys in the pre-show, I saw the topic for today and was like "commercial video?" Are we talking about video for commercials? And that was about the extent of my expertise. So that was good. Thanks for clearing that up guys.


Kindra: You sell a couple of commercials, Matt, and they'll do it. They're on it.

Roberts: I'm up for it.

Roberts: We've talked before about the power of video as a storytelling medium, but in your own words, why do you think that video is such a great medium for telling an organization's story?

Finney: I think nowadays video is such a powerful tool that pretty much everyone has access to, to make a really high quality production and product. So I think for video, a narrative is much easier to be produced and shown than with stills. I think it's much harder to craft a narrative with a gallery of photos when you could grab someone's attention in 5 to 10 seconds with a video on social. It's so effective and I mean, you could even shoot something on your phone and it looks incredible. So I think in the future, I think maybe photos will even out again, but right now, video is definitely the king as far as having a short and sweet, but really effective marketing tool.

Kindra: Yeah. I'd add to that. Just kind of the immersion and video, right? So we are so used to social media and static forms of pictures and storytelling that to have something that moves and also has sound, I think that immersive quality has really been with has driven its adoption and engagement.

Dudek: I think whether we know it or not, really what we're trying to do through branding or through any form of marketing is we are trying to convey emotions and trying to get our audience to connect to the same emotions that we are trying to get off. So whether you're a nonprofit or whether you're a marketing agency like Speak, we are trying to convey emotions to other people and video is a very powerful way that you can use actors. You can use voiceover, you can use so many different methods of trying to convey emotions and just trying to give you that human element of a brand, of a company, and sometimes some brands can fall flat if they don't have video as part of that. You really see yourself as a company, as a brand, come alive through the use of video and that's what we see.

Roberts: Yeah that connection to an emotion that we're trying to evoke in the viewer is just a really great segue into our next question. As I mentioned earlier, we talked about the importance of narrative on the podcast before, but how do you approach creating that emotional connection?

Dudek: Man, that's a great question and that's the reason why we have a job. Not because we necessarily know all the ins and outs, but because we're continually learning how to do that. It really starts with "what is the goal of each brand? What is the goal of each video that comes to us?" Sometimes it's recruiting. Sometimes it's just overall awareness. Sometimes it's trying to change the narrative that a company might have. So really we have to figure out what is your end goal that you want your audience to find out or to really figure out by themselves? Pixar follows this method, it's called the 2+2=4 and oftentimes what a video will do is it'll give the audience two, it'll give them another two and it'll tell them that that equals four.

Finney: But what Pixar believes is that it's much more powerful to give your audience a two and a two and let them figure out what it equals, because that connection that they make, that two plus two equals four would be so much more powerful in their minds, versus you just telling them what to think. So really when it comes to storytelling, we don't want to tell the audience what to think or what to feel. We just try to give them the pieces for them to be able to piece that story together for themselves. We find that is almost always the most powerful way of doing it. That is also the hardest way of doing it. But we do find that you often get the best results through trying to go through that method.

Roberts: I think there might be some people who listen and think, this sounds nice for someone, but not me or my company or my brand because they're tempted to think that they don't have a story or that they have a commodity type products that just kinda is what it is and people are gonna buy it because they need it to keep the whatever running. Do you kind of agree with that segment who might say, "Hey, that's great for somebody, but we don't have a story." Or do you think everybody has a story to tell?

Finney: I think everybody has some kind of story they can tell. I think we've all seen commercials that are lacking story, and we just think to ourselves, "wow, they invested money and shot that and aired it and thought it would really go far and help their sales or help brand awareness" and that sticks with us because we know something about that just did not feel real or it just didn't feel they really understand what I'm trying to do. So I think, just to give an example, in the last couple of years, I've really seen a shift where clothing and lifestyle companies when before, it was just kind of like, "here's the shirt we have or the jacket or the shoe or a pair of boots that we have, and it will do this thing" and either you it and you buy it or you don't. But now you can add a whole element of story into that product. Okay, we've got a pair of work boots, let's go film a blue collar guy working in these boots, what can he get done wearing these? And someone will see that and think, "I need that. I need to get that job done and that will help me get there because they have that connection." So when you add the element of a narrative and story just to show what a product or even just a brand that can help someone further in their hobbies or career, people latch onto that really easily. They want to identify with that cause they think, "well this company, they know what I want. They know what I like , and they've met me where I'm at and they know exactly what I need and they have it there for me to purchase."

Kindra: I love that analogy of "this is the shoe's form and function, but that's not important. It's who the shoe makes you and who you want to be while you're wearing the shoe" and that really does add up to four. So that's a great connection point. Love that.

Roberts: It is exactly in Seinfeld what they did with the J Peterman catalog. It's exactly that. I couldn't think about anything else when you were talking about that.

Finney: No, I think that was really well said, and I think it is very daunting as a company, brand, or organization to think about your own story and whether or not you think that that matters. I think people are focusing too much on their own story and they should be focusing more on their customer's story or their audience's story and how do you, as a company, as a brand, as an organization, nonprofit, how do you affect somebody else's story and how do you further along their own journey? If you focus more on that story, I think that's when you'll find more wins, it's not about how important you are. It's about how do you make the other people around you more important? How do you lift them up? Focusing more on those stories tends to be how you can engage with your audience just a little bit more.

Roberts: I think you guys did a really good job with that with one of our customers who sells PVC parts. There's not a whole lot of emotion in PVC parts, but you guys put together a really good video for them where it's not just about this piece of plastic. It's also about these people behind the scenes and then also how it helps this guy do his job better and provide for his customers.

Dudek: What's funny is they actually wanted to go a Billy Mays route with that initially. Very comedic, very eccentric but in talking to them, we just found that's not who they were as a brand. It would not be true to themselves and hopefully it gives a little bit more insight of who they are by creating something that's more true to who they actually are as a company.

Ervin: Oh absolutely. When I saw it, I already had a high opinion of these people. These are good folks and then I saw the video and I was like "see, I knew it"

Roberts: That's interesting because when I was framing the question, that's actually who I had in mind. Because you've got a company that just pushes out pieces of plastic. I mean, hundreds of thousands of pieces of plastic is basically all this company produces. Not all, you know what I mean, but they have a story to tell. But it's hard, I think, for brands to really connect with that until they actually work with somebody who's really great at telling stories. Some brands already know that and have that in their wheelhouse. But I think a lot of companies don't, and they don't know what kind of voice they want and then you end up with Billy Mays knockoff videos that don't move the needle for anybody.

Roberts: You following me here, camera guy?

Roberts: Sitting down across the table from somebody and planning and thinking through what it would take to actually execute for a client, how do you help them? How do you either help them uncover their own story or maybe do the uncovering yourself and then tell it back to them?

Finney: I think it's a little bit different for each client. Especially if it's a nonprofit. It's a little bit easier to learn the narrative storytelling route with a nonprofit, because most nonprofits are very relatable in the sense that it's meeting a basic need and that touches people's hearts. So I think when you work with more of an industrial or commercial client, we ask “what's the backstory of the company. How did it begin? What was the goal when it was first created? What's the mission now? What do you want to be in the next 10 years?" And then try and see where we can connect the dots on a personal level of when you get to that point, what's going to be the impact? What's the community going to feel when you reach this point? We were just talking with a local Memphis bakery and they were basically just giving us the lay of the land on their business and how the year has really changed them and moving forward, they want people to feel the impact of what they do within their kitchen in the community. They don't ever want to have to explain what they're doing. They just want people to walk in the door and feel they truly care about what they do. They care about their community and they're helping the community. Even if no one necessarily knows that, or is involved with it, they still feel the impact of that every time it does it. So I think really just trying to connect the dots on any kind of personal level really humanizes a company that just seems so stiff and corporate sometimes. It just helps the overall reach of a company on social media.

Kindra: It also helps the brand equity too, right? Because you just know that that company does good things. You care about them, even if you maybe haven't had a cake from them in years. If someone asks, "Hey, where can I go for this?" you automatically think of them because that storytelling power has built up their brand in your mind.

Finney: Oftentimes when we sit across the table from someone that's looking to do video, a lot of the times they don't even know what's possible of what we can do with video. With the resources that we have today, you don't need massive budgets to create powerful stories. Yes, you do need some kind of budget and that's where we come in to try to utilize that as best as possible. But we find that it's so important to find inspiration and get on the same page from day one to be able to say, "Hey, we can tell this story of someone retiring and trying to spend money in a certain way to better the lives of their kids and try to connect that in some way to your financial company." We can tell a grassroots story that a lot of people when they see video think "I've gotta be in front of a camera talking and there's going to be B roll of my company" and while that is a big part of what we do, that to me is not the most effective way to tell your story and connect to your audience. So I do think that there is a disconnect that some people don't exactly know what's possible and what is most effective. But I think we are learning. I think we are getting there and I think we are in a good spot where we know what works and what doesn't.

Kindra: How do you flip that on its head though? Is it sometimes exhausting to find the riveting story for a client? Sometimes don't you want to take the Billy Maids approach and just get a slapstick comedy out there or do something completely outside of the cinematography angle?

Finney: Sometimes that can be tempting, but I think at least for me, the last couple of years is really just when I started working with video. I started out in photography in high school, and that was where I found my passion for creative work and being able to share a feeling that I felt when I saw something to someone else. I'm really getting to the point now with video where I have that same feeling and I know when I see a good storytelling narrative video that pulls me in, it gets my attention, but it also makes me want to support a brand. That feeling pushes me on through meetings where it seems like "man, I really don't know what kind of story we can tell with this company or this brand, or it just seems there's really nothing relatable here" But there's always something. I just want people to have that same feeling I've had so many times for their own company. I don't know. I'm trying to find another way to describe it.

Kindra: I think that's a great reminder for all creatives, is to really understand it might not be your passion, but it is someone's passion. That's why they're in business doing it.

Ervin: What makes this not a commodity? That's what you're looking for.

Roberts: I go back to Jordan Dudek's comment of "how does this impact the lives of the customers?" So not just the company, but who the company serves. It's such a clarifying way to look at it because it's the outcomes that the company is trying to create that creates a good starting point for the story that you can tell. I'm going to move us along here. So just curious, I mean, I suspect I know the answer, but I would love to hear you guys talk it out. What do you feel the biggest advantages of having a cinematographer create your commercial video are? I mean, couldn't somebody do it on their own?

Finney: Oh man. Well this is the Michael Scott syndrome, I think at its finest, of trying to create your own commercial and there's nothing wrong with that.

Ervin: Perfect quote.

Dudek: There's honestly nothing wrong with trying to create your own commercial and honestly we do try to maintain that grassroots mentality of trying to make it as true to yourself as possible and true to your brand as possible. But the benefits that you get of having cinematographers come in and do your commercial are that there's so much more to all of this than just pointing a camera and shooting. Everyone these days has an iPhone. Everyone these days has some form of camera they can use to create something and that's a beautiful thing, and we should encourage people to do that. But it doesn't always mean that they know the best way to tell a story and how we come in is we know about light. We know how to get crisp audio. We know how to effectively tell a story in as little and as many steps as possible and still get the message across. Our attention spans are decreasing by the second and you can't tell a story in three minutes now, it has to be done in 30 seconds, 15 seconds. So you have to figure out when we make these cuts. How can we be so effective with that time? I'll say, that's when we step in. We do some videography here as well. But we think that there's a difference between videography and cinematography. Videography is kind of capturing moments that are happening and we like to think of cinematography as creating those moments. So it's not just an event happening, what can we grab from that event? We are focusing on trying to create moments that are true to who you are, but also convey to your audience what kind of emotions you're trying to evoke. So that's where we believe that we add value, is trying to create more of this emotional pull versus just what's happening in our everyday lives. We want to create an experience for your audience and that's why we think we could do that better than just pointing an iPhone at somebody.

Kindra: I guess that's pretty similar to what we're doing with content and social. It's really putting your best foot forward, not just showcasing what you are doing, but why should someone engage with you? What can be theirs if they just knew about your brand? So that is right in line with how we market today, you've got to make maximum impact in 15 seconds, it's not easy.

Dudek: That's not to say that doing an iPhone video doesn't have value. It absolutely does. Sometimes there's something that you need to get off your chest today and you need to get it up on social media. Yeah, we might not be able to get out there and shoot that for you. So get that out there and get that on social media. Do what's important first, but we can absolutely help with campaigns with videos that need to increase your image as a brand. That is absolutely where we step in.


Roberts: The long and the short of is, I mean, this podcast kind of has a long running undercurrent of essentially talking out all the different ways that it's valuable to bring in an expert in a particular field and like you guys have said several times, there's nothing wrong with doing something yourself or needing to get something cut together. But it's when you're looking to take a step forward, make a bigger impact, realize a greater return on investment of time, resources, money, or whatever. Regardless of the medium, it's worth at least having a conversation with somebody who's an expert in that area. Because a lot of times, there's just a lot more going on that somebody who is an expert can bring to the table to create that return that you're looking for.

Roberts: For sure. There's so many people out there that provide video services and there's production houses and other marketing agencies and they have every kind of style imaginable. But I think one of the cool things about us at Speak is there's one in the spectrum of videographers that they just look at everything at face value and just going to document this and if it's cool, that's great. If not, it's just who they are and I'm getting paid to video this and that's it. Then there's the complete other end of the spectrum where it's people doing it just for the sake of "this is my artistic expression and if you don't fit within that, then we're not going to be a good fit as partners in business." But I think we're able to kind of be in the middle where me and Jordan both have very similar creative visions. But we can also practically see that this company is providing a good or a service to someone and they still deserve something that looks amazing and they still deserve something that is as creative as it's going to be, and it's gonna draw people in and really be effective for their brand. So being able to marry the two and being practical, but also thinking ahead of "okay, how can I put a storytelling spin on this?" Or instead of just checking the boxes of making videos for a business. Okay, well, their faces are lit. That's great. The audio is good, but maybe kind of shift the environment a little bit to make them look really good, shift the lighting just a little bit. Just little touches like that, I think really sets us apart from a lot of agencies that just show up and say, "Hey, we're hired to do the video and we'll going to do it and have a great day" That's something I've noticed for awhile and I love that we really focus about the partnerships here at Speak. I just think that's really what is going to help bring a new business and really foster good business moving forward.

Roberts: Well said. Alright. So we're going to turn the corner to our off topic question. You guys are both self-acknowledged self-proclaimed coffee snobs. Tell us about your most memorable cup.

Kindra: And why was it in Nashville?

Ervin: I was gonna say it's gotta be Costco's Rwandan blend. You can buy 12 pounds at a time. It's awesome.


Roberts: But bonus points if it's the same cup that you shared together.


Dudek: Not with COVID Matt.

Roberts: Oh yeah. That's right. That's not COVID friendly.
Kindra: Oh, you meant the actual same cup.

Ervin: Like two straws, one on each side?

Dudek: So wait, you said "best" and then you said "most memorable".

Ervin: I'm already confused that you're drawing the distinction.

Kindra: Tell us the story. Give us the full cinema graphic effect of this cup of coffee. Let's hear it.

Dudek: Oh man. Well, unfortunately I think my best cup of coffee was in Nashville and I hate to say that.

Kindra: Knew it.

Dudek: But it was Crema and I think they had this orange seasonal latte, but believe it or not, I was in Nashville shooting for a local company and I put on an Instagram story, "Where should I go to grab a cup of coffee this afternoon?" and Jordan Finney reached out and said, "you should go to Crema" and I went and asked, "what should I get?" and they said "get this latte" and it was easily the best latte I've ever had in my life. This was a year and a half ago? Two years ago?

Ervin: So you guys did share the same cup, huh?

Dudek: And when we were in Nashville, we went to Crema every day on Speak's dime, so thank you very much.

Roberts: Nice.

Roberts: Finney, before you answer, I do have to give Kindra some crap for using the word "cinemagraphic"

Kindra: Yeah I knew it wasn't right, but I just went with it.

Roberts: I think you're looking for "cinematic".

Kindra: That was the only word that could possibly come out. But I assure you, there were others that I knew weren't right, so I just went with the most viable.

Roberts: Alright Finney. You're up. Redeem Memphis, please.

Finney: I don't know if I can. I think my favorite coffee is this place called Madcap. Every year, they have this roast come out in the fall called Oktoberfest. I know single origin is the thing if you're going to be a coffee snob, but it's a blend and it's the best. It tastes everything you want in a cup of coffee, no matter who you are. So you should check it out. But here's the deal. I also have really technically bad coffee. I love waffle house and I'll drink folgers at home every day.

Roberts: So hold on. We have a blend and a flavored latte coming from the coffee snobs.

Kindra: I just want y'all to know I'm taking so many screenshots of Matt Roberts for new emojis. His face is really something right now.


Roberts: From myself, our panel today, and all of us at Speak, thanks for getting a little off topic with us. If you liked today's episode, you'd love the content our team is cranking out on our blog. Head over to madebyspeak.com to check out the latest and greatest. If you enjoyed the show, subscribe and leave a review on your podcast platform of choice and see you next time.

Roberts: Matt Ervin. How are you doing?

Ervin: Hey, what's up bro?

Dudek: I know for a fact you've never said bro in your life. Sorry, do that again. 

Ervin: it's been awhile. Yeah. 

Dudek: Who taught you that word? Tony Hawk?

Ervin: I think it was probably Tony Hawk.

Dudek: It was the youths. 

Ervin: It was definitely Tony Hawk.

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